Islamic and Jewish thought

Okay, I’ve just realized that I’m rather behind in answering questions – I hereby promise this will be corrected . . . soon.  Please don’t stop asking me things!

In that spirit . . .

Shmuel Aryeh asked: How you see the relation between Islamic and Judaic Law in the early years of Islam, if any at all? I know that RaMBaM (Maimonides), Z”L, was influenced by Islamic thinking, primarily when it comes to Philosophy (where it probably would be more correct to say that he shared the Muslim interest for the Greek philosophers), but he was also influenced by Islamic methodology when it comes to Fiqh, which is evident from his use of Qiyas in his Mishneh Torah.

But how much did it go the other way? Did early Muslim scholars let them selves be inspired from Jewish scholars? And if so, only when they converted and brought whatever Jewish knowledge and methodology they might have with them? I’m thinking on people like Ka’b al-Ahbar.

Okay, noting that this is really not my area of expertise, the first thing I should do is point you towards the much better people on this subject – in particular, I’m thinking of Uri Rubin’s work Between Bible and Qur’an, which considers the Qur’anic portrayal of the Children of Israel, and how it compares to the original construction in the Hebrew Bible.  There are also several articles by Sarah Stroumsa on the Jewish and Islamic conceptions of prophethood.

In general, I think most scholars of Islamic studies are inclined to accept that there are similarities between Islamic and Jewish thought, and since we know that the Prophet (peace be upon him) and the early community had connections to the Jewish communities in central Arabia, most importantly in Medina, it seems entirely plausible that there were interactions between the two.  I think the bigger question that scholars have debated is how much of an interaction there was – scholars like Patricia Crone, Yehuda Nevo, Judith Keron and Chase Robinson have all argued for early Islam as essentially a revision of Judaism.

Personally, I’m inclined towards the other side of the debate, and to argue that the similarities are not consistent enough to suggest much of use – if we do choose to read early Islam as a revision of Jewish thought, why this revision and why in the early seventh century?

Whichever side of the debate you’re on, there are points in which early Islam itself speaks to a connection between Judaism and Islam – for example, before the revelation of the Ramadan fast, the early Muslim community kept the Jewish fasts, and according to some accounts, continued to do so as a form of optional fasting afterwards.

In terms of when these kinds of interactions began, I think it’s entirely reasonable to believe that interactions between Islam and other religions began as soon as those religions had contact, so in the case of Judaism, within the first decade from the first revelation.  As scholars, we’re often driven to find evidence for direct interaction – as we should, as obviously we need evidence to build on – but for myself, I think those pieces of direct evidence imply the existence of a much larger system of passive interaction, in which one side becomes aware of the ideas and beliefs of the other.

That was a very general answer, I admit, but hopefully at least you consider it an answer!

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About askanislamicist

I'm an academic who specializes in early Islamic history and the history of religious interactions, who, in her free time, enjoys shouting into the internet.
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One Response to Islamic and Jewish thought

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